Carson and Barnes Circus, in the 1960s

Monday, February 18, 2008

Big Top Bits: Cirque Turmoil to Byrd’s Big Journey West ...

We’re off on a Cirque thing, courtesy of 18-year-old Logan Jacot, new age contortionist from Ohio with a punk attitude who calls Gunther Gebel Williams his hero and who posts a boxed message that reads “Peta Kills Animals.” Logan just happened to have picked up a copy of my book, Fall of the Big Top, and liked it enough (thank you, Logan) to talk — no, make that chat it up to his cohorts on a Cirque du Soleil fan website. By accident almost, I discovered Logan’s posting, and it feels neat, being able to reach a younger generation born even after Cirque was invented .... On the same website, I also discovered swirling rumors and reports about a number of Kooza performers walking out, reasons assumed to range from displeasure to disgust with the treatment of pushy superiors ...

Who’s to Blame for Cirque Discontent? I’ve always felt that the way a show treats its staff emanates from the very top. So we focus our meditation on impresario Guy Laliberte.... NEVER in the modest history of this here blog has a posting generated so much comment. Heck, four comments is big for little yours truly. Among the reactions, performers breaking contracts is nothing new — “Cirque has never been accused of overpaying anybody.” ... A more sympathetic visitor says that the artists “feel overworked, underpaid, disrespected and underappreciated. How can performers be expected to give their all under such circumstances?” Then comes this rough tough reality check from Ross Hartzell, raising indelicately the alternatives the self-departing might face: “Just wait till they find themselves outdoors in a rodeo arena with mud blowing sideways.” Ouch...

Makes Me Wonder about the Ways of Cirque du Soleil. For example, might they have, early in the run of a Corteo, an opus that left me unimpresso, beefed up the program with better acts? And what might they have been trying to do to Kooza that might have driven the cast to make final exits? Let’s face it, kids, Kooza’s first half was just good rather than great, which is what the show becomes once the power performers arrive about midway through the program — well, at the one I saw ...

About Impresarios: What separates them from all the others? My best guess is a dogged deference to art over commerce. The reason I place Cliff Vargas in the honored circle is that he, in his fleeting heyday years (the mid 80s), would have likely hawked his whole life for a passion to produce that he barely understood. Yes, he needed to go to refinement school, and after reading a piece about him and his “Vargasms” by Lane Talburt in Bandwagon, I am convinced that Mr. V., had he lived much longer, would have sooner than later crashed under a collapsing tent or runaway semi — if not into the Bermuda triangle. Why do most of us love the man? I think because he truly wanted to produce great circus.

Kenneth Feld drifted safely in the opposite direction: He tried his hand at “art” with his more than promising Kaleidoscape, then strangely walked away. Too messy a proposition. A victim, I suspect, of his own artistic cowardice. Back to demographics and marketing surveys. Back to the Disney mode, variations unlimited, which evidently makes big bucks for the fabulously successful Felds ... Speaking of which, a scare-mentioned pair who deserve more attention in history books are Louis Stern and Irving J. Polack, who in the mid ‘30s, made a pledge to turn out quality shows, and were soon the charm of the Shriners. From Ringling to Polack went so many top stars, which spoiled me rotten ...I’m still recovering from post ecstatic center-ring syndrome, having seen Francis Brunn and others of his sainted ilk in my extreme youth ... Logan, now that gave me attitude.

Earl Chapin May Gets No Respect From Bandwagon: Okay, maybe he’s not the greatest author of circus books ever, but I always thought he was a lively and very reliable source. Now Bandwagon’s managing editor, Fred D. Pfennig III has called May’s Circus From Rome to Ringling “surely the most overrated circus book ever written.” No reasons given. Why, Mr. P? Have you details, please? ... And while you are out it, how about your take on a number of my favorite others, among them, Circus Kings, This Way to The Big Show, and Bradna’s Big Top? ... And just for the populist record, I too regard I Love You Honey as the best tanbark tome I ever read ...

Another curious Bandwagon position comes from Al Stencell, recounting numerous circuses seen in Europe and giving prime credit to Bernard Paul for being the true inspiration behind Cirque du Soleil... At least Stencell states his reasons, and surely his proposition merits a merry monograph or two from somebody out there... I defer, in the meantime, to the Russians as the principal source of inspiration for the modern day phenom headquartered up there in Montreal, Florida. Excuse me, I mean Sarasota, Quebec ... In passing, Stencil mentions having witnessed clown Charlie Rivel’s last public appearance, but, drats, does not say a word about what he thought of the act that John Ringling North had tried for years in vain to book ...

If I never see another Hula Hoop, Thank you, Lord! They are talking up the hula hoop’s anniversary, and I am reminded of all the hoop “acts” that I have sat through, not a happy patron ... Only once was I magnificently impressed, thanks to Jim Judkins. On his Circus Chimera a few years back, Jim — for a moment, playing the role of impresario — hired two captivating Russians, four-star illusionist, Olga Timchenko, and her son, Dimitri, who grabbed hold of a dozen or so hula hoops and proceeded to work them as a true juggler. Now that was a turn to remember ...

Big Top Bits: in a Covington Flash: Circus World, which seems to be waking up from a long bad dream, might revive the grand parade in 2009, Hats off to new and improved exec director Stephen Freese, who has the complex on the move once again. The Ringling-Barnum Archives having been opened to the public, at last, should bring Freese Museum Director of the Year Award. And for best supporting player, I nominate self-effacing library archivist Erin Foley ... Ringling’s new edition about to hit the trail is titled “over the top” I’m hoping so. But please, without those you know whats ... Why not marbles --- or skateboards --- or perhaps a ring of anal retentive electronic junkies juggling ipods and iPhones whilst whizzing about on their iScooters?

Into a PC war zone for Barbara Byrd’s Fearless Big Top? Looks like the SF. Zoo fiasco might linger on, with more animal activists claiming terrible conditions there, even after the wall was raised sky high ... And what might they do when Carson & Barnes throws up its tents onto the Cow Palace parking lot next September? Ms. Byrd, we’re in search of the next American sawdust impresario(ess). Your resume, perhaps? I must warn you, however, not without at least a few live musicians will you qualify — even if they play iDisco.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

From the buzz I wonder if the next tanbark Impresarios aren't going to be Mr North and Mr Royal, taking out a show this season Mr Vargas would delight in. All the pieces are there.